At the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, we are continually exploring and working on the best ways that we can purposefully and meaningfully involve children and young people in the work that we do. We are continuing to evolve and improve our own practice, and on International Youth Day we thought it would be worthwhile sharing what we are learning.
What is most important is not just engaging children and young people, but doing that in a way that is respectful and not tokenistic. Too often we invite children to participate and be involved in the adult world without any consideration of how this might be experienced or understood by the children and young people themselves. We have identified that to achieve this you need a range of practices and approaches. Here are three things we think are important.
How adults approach working with children and young people matters.
Working with intent means appreciating the existing power imbalances and differences between children, young people and adults’ experiences, knowledge and capacity – and adjusting for this.
One way we have involved children and young people in our work has been through co-design of products and services.
We continually refine and improve our work in designing this process because how we create an environment where a six-year-old can advise and provide insight into what they need from a digital product requires more than just asking them what they would like. They don’t have the ability to understand the development processes, or what is involved from a budget perspective. They learn a lot through play, so you have to create ways of engaging and providing advice that fits with their experience and knowledge – play-based, visual and thematic.
Our processes and procedures need to adapt to children and young people’s worlds.
Children and young people don’t create deadlines or project schedules or set KPIs. If we are to authentically and effectively work with children and young people in ways that meaningfully impact our work then we need to look at our processes and procedures and work out how we can best adapt and change those to allow for non-tokenistic involvement of young people.
Our work with children and young people must be about ongoing relationships and not simply transactions.
So, at the Foundation we are working to develop relationships with increasingly large numbers of children and young people and engaging with them over time.
We return to them and let them know – “This is how you impacted our work, are you happy for us to ask you some more questions?”. We are constantly thinking about how we provide them with skills and knowledge to help them better advocate and advise so that they can have a greater say in not just our work, but in the systems that govern our lives.
On International Youth Day, it is important to think about what respectful and genuine partnerships between children, young people and adults look like.
It can’t all be on young people to fight for that space, they need adults who are in power to make that space and hand over some of the control and resources and budgets – so that children and young people can have a meaningful impact on the future that they will inherit.
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